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Carving a Native Kwakwaka'wakw Totem Pole with Rupert Scow

Updated on May 30, 2016
Xwi Xwi
Xwi Xwi | Source
Rupert Scow patiently teaching us to carve a small totem pole
Rupert Scow patiently teaching us to carve a small totem pole | Source

KWAKWAWKA'WAKW CARVINGS

Northern Vancouver Island
Northern Vancouver Island | Source
Alert Bay Gilford island area where Rupert first learned carving
Alert Bay Gilford island area where Rupert first learned carving | Source
"Native Visions" source book for old photos and maps
"Native Visions" source book for old photos and maps
Double headed sea serpent crest with Kolus bird. This was worn by Jonny Scow and Bill Scow.
Double headed sea serpent crest with Kolus bird. This was worn by Jonny Scow and Bill Scow. | Source
This book about Willie Seaweed's art shows classic Kwakwawka'wakw style designs. Rupert and his brother Leonard Scow studied this book.
This book about Willie Seaweed's art shows classic Kwakwawka'wakw style designs. Rupert and his brother Leonard Scow studied this book. | Source
Old headress with sea serpent and bear.  Willie Seaweed carves the sea serpent.
Old headress with sea serpent and bear. Willie Seaweed carves the sea serpent.
Old Kwakwaka'wakw carving showing traditional colors
Old Kwakwaka'wakw carving showing traditional colors
One of Rupert Scow's unfinished bird masks which he was painting while teaching our carving course.
One of Rupert Scow's unfinished bird masks which he was painting while teaching our carving course. | Source

Learning Carving with Rupert Scow

KWAKWAWKA'KA STYLE CARVING

I was very excited when I learned that Rupert Scow was offering a class in West Coast Native Carving, Kwakwawka'wakw (Kwakiutl) style. Rupert is a west coast native carving teacher from the village of Gwa'yasdums on Gilford Island across from Alert bay.

The class was to be held at Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast in Southwestern BC. I very much wanted to take the class but didn't know if it would be too hard for me. I was afraid I would not be able to keep up with the other carvers.The course was advertised as suitable for intermediate and advanced carvers.Which I am, but we were advised to bring adzes.

I have made an adz (which is a carving tool that is sort of a cross between an axe and a gouge.) I own two adzes. But despite excellent instruction and encouragement from friends and teachers, I have never really been able to master the adz so instead I usually use a band saw, gouges, crooked and straight blades. Carvers who master the smooth slicing chop of adzing can remove a lot of wood effectively-but not me. When I try to use my adz I chop away and get sore wrists and blisters and risk chopping my own arms and legs and people around me.

When I was a child growing up in Vancouver I loved to stare up at the many totem poles in Stanley Park and at the University of British Columbia. I am ashamed to say as kids we used to climb on the poles and dare each other to put our hands in the gaping mouths. I always preferred the dramatic multi colored carvings from the northern part of Vancouver Island. In those days this Aboriginal 1st nation was mistakenly called Kwakiutl, an error made in part because the pronunciation is hard for native English speakers.

Once when I was little I saved my allowance until I had $10 and took the bus downtown to the Hudson's Bay Company department store. My aunt worked in the "Indian" souvenir department and sold me a small brightly painted pole Kwakiutl style which I treasured and still have 60 years later.

One way to differentiate the Kwakwaka'wakw carving from the equally beautiful Haida or Gitxsan Wesuwetan carvings is in the use of color. The Haida and Gitxsannations use mainly or exclusively red and black accents on natural wood. The Kwakwaka'ka often cover the carving with color: white,red and black form lines and secondary colors brown,green,yellow,orange.

Another way to differentiate is to look at the shapes.Traditionally the Haida carvings are flatter and the Kwakwaka'wakw carvings more deeply carved and rounded. Kwakwaka'wakw style has been called the baroque of West Coast carving because of the use of dramatic exaggerated shapes and bright colors.. The large masks with many moving parts manipulated by strings,must look fantastic in the longhouse dances..

In those same years,the 1950sI watches native master carvers carving gigantic poles for the University of British Columbia and the Royal Victoria museum. It seemed like magic watching the dramatic faces and animals emerging from the wood. It never occurred to me that I could learn to carve these figures.

Rupert Scow comes from a line of carversliving in the Alert Bay/GilfordIsland area of Northern Vancouver Island. His ancestors were famous for their beautifully carved totem poles and articulated masks. These masks were worn by the costumed dancers in the dance dramas of the potlatch. A potlatch is a festival of family honor where in the old days families gained status and respect based not on how much wealth they had, but on how much wealth they were able to give away.

During our five day carving course I hoped that Rupert would tell us stories about the longhouse celebrations and about the spirits and family crests depicted by the masks.

THREE DIFFERENT CULTURES CARVE FACES

Brightly painted  Kwakwawka'wakw mask by Rupert Scow
Brightly painted Kwakwawka'wakw mask by Rupert Scow
Moon Mask-Gitxsan Wetsuweten style carving. Note the flatter flowing planes and the sparser painting using mainly black and red accent colors with carved formline design and inlay.
Moon Mask-Gitxsan Wetsuweten style carving. Note the flatter flowing planes and the sparser painting using mainly black and red accent colors with carved formline design and inlay. | Source
Face detail from Maori totem pole at Rotorua Maori Cultural Ceter. Note the simple  facial features with elaborate facial lines to mimic the Maroir identifying tattoos.
Face detail from Maori totem pole at Rotorua Maori Cultural Ceter. Note the simple facial features with elaborate facial lines to mimic the Maroir identifying tattoos. | Source

Different styles of Carving



Here you see examples of three different carving styles:



Kwakwaka'wakw

This mask was carved by Rupert Scow. It is typical Kwakwaka'wakw style from Northern Vancouver Island shows bright colors, dramatic facial features, cedar bark decoration. This mask is suitable for dancing in the dim light of a longhouse ceremony.





Gitxan Westuetan

This mask is in the style of North Western British Columbia. This moon mask is carved and photographed by Robert Barratt. It has fine lines, finely carved formline, and beautiful inlay following the style of Robert Barrat's mentor Norman Tate. Robert Barratt teaches formline carving, mask making and other wonderful courses.








Maori

I took this photo in Rotorua New Zealand. This face is from a pole at the Maori cultural center. In Maori culture each individual had his or her unique facial tattoos of curved lines. Maori masks and sculpture are often more roughly carved than this example and the older figures were often preserved with a red ochre coating. I was unable to study Maori carving as people I asked said it is traditionally not women's work to carve. I am sure someone would have taught me if I had more time to look.

Can you see the similarities and differences?

Detail from porch of Andrew's carving workshop on his property in the Robert's Creek woods.
Detail from porch of Andrew's carving workshop on his property in the Robert's Creek woods. | Source
Entering Andrews downstairs workshop-carvings, power tools, storage areas
Entering Andrews downstairs workshop-carvings, power tools, storage areas | Source
Part of Andrews antique tool collection
Part of Andrews antique tool collection | Source
Laying out the template on the cedar
Laying out the template on the cedar | Source
Cutting back the wing
Cutting back the wing | Source
Using templates and tracing paper to draw out the patterns for carving
Using templates and tracing paper to draw out the patterns for carving | Source
Karen and Andrew in the bright upstairs carving area
Karen and Andrew in the bright upstairs carving area | Source

OUR TOTEM POLE CARVING COURSE with RUPERT SCOW

The carving course was organised by Joanne, Andrew Dunkerton's wife. It took place on their property in the large, bright,luxurious two level workshop built by Andrew on his property in the woods of Upper Roberts Creek. Joanne provided excellent meals. Carvers camped on Joanne and Andrews large forested property or stayed in near by B&Bs.

The only anxiety I had was would I be able to keep up with the other carvers. And I was not alone. Hugh from Edmonton confided that he had been hopelessly slow in the last course and The other carvers had to wait for him.

Hugh said: "I want to carve first nations style-But there are no first nations carving teachers in Edmonton."

Hugh was a retired surgeon and he has been practicing carving a lot lately. As the 5 day course progressed none of us could keep up with Hugh.

I was totally relieved when I learned that I would not have to adze.

"We will save at least a day of carving by drawing the pattern on the cedar with templates." Said Rupert. We chose our first growth cedar pieces and traced the front and side patterns on the wood. I didn't notice the tiny traces of worm holes in the piece of cedar I chose. BIG MISTAKE!

For insurance purposes Andrew did the power cutting for us. After we had traced the patterns onto our cedar blocks he cut out our totem pole blancs on one of his bandsaws. Already the totem design was recognizable-An eagle sitting on the shoulders of a strong bear..

Rupert Scow provides clear step by step instruction which enabled students to establish and mauntain symmetry in the totem-symetry right left and in depth of the carving. Apparently in the old days symmetry was not so valued as it is in modern times. Currently symmetry is one of the marks of an excellent carving. Some other criterion are good design, smooth balance cuts, even flowing angels. And the eyes need to be expressive but not crossed or walleyed.

After we marked the center lines and lines evenly out from the center we traced elements like the eagels wing, the bears arm and head, onto the wood using tracing paper. Rupert showed us how to use clear rulers, templates, and divider compasses to ensure symmetry as we carved the pole element by element.

It was a joy to work in such a lovely workshop. we took turns choosing music-jazz, rock, or no music just story telling. rupert told some family carving stories and told about the spirits of some masks. Karen one of the carving students has a degree in Anthropology and is very knowlegeble about West Coast Native Culture. She is also a good story teller.

Rupert carving and telling us stories
Rupert carving and telling us stories | Source
patterns and template
patterns and template | Source
knives
knives | Source
Some of my knives gouges and mallet used in this course.
Some of my knives gouges and mallet used in this course. | Source
Hugh and Karen discuss the anatomical accuracy of a carved scull rattle.
Hugh and Karen discuss the anatomical accuracy of a carved scull rattle. | Source
Carving like crazy
Carving like crazy | Source
Part of Rupert's pole part way through the course. Note how the cuts are symmetrical before the rounding. Also not the lines marking the place where the eyes will be carved out.
Part of Rupert's pole part way through the course. Note how the cuts are symmetrical before the rounding. Also not the lines marking the place where the eyes will be carved out. | Source
The happy carvers on day five. We have still not finished our small totem poles.
The happy carvers on day five. We have still not finished our small totem poles. | Source

Our Carving Course was Intense


The carving course started with a meet and greet wine and cheese party Sunday night in Rupert's studio. People brought friends and other carvers were welcome. It was a nice relaxing way to start the course. Monday morning we began working enthusiastically and carved hard all morning and took few breaks except to stretch and inspect each other's progress.We were happy when Joanne showed up with lunch at 12 noon. Joanne is a great cook and the food she provided was a delicious highlight of the course.

During lunch time we talked carving, admired Rupert's projects-a grouse mask and a large transformation mask that he was carving for Karen. He worked hard after our classes and had it finished by Saturday. It was also interesting to look at Andrew's masks and projects and admire his workshop which is filled with equipment, wood, antique tools and many wonderful carvings.We particularly like Andrew's carved scull rattles which are anatomically correct.

The poles take shape


At lunch hour we also looked at carving books, talked carving and admired Rupert's big transformation mask. Then it was time to go back to work. We all took turns picking music to carve by. When it was my turn I told stories and asked for stories from the carvers and Rupert.

Rupert told us the story of Kolus the bird on his great grandfathers headdress. In ceremonies the chiefs are permitted to wear headdresses with their clan crests. The ceremonies could go on for weeks with the host village feeding and housing many visitors who paddled over from villages in neighbouring areas.Kolus came down from his celestial home and married a Scow woman ancestor. Through this marriage the Scows attained high ranking in their community. Rupert carved a mask telling this story.

Rupert told us about his culture, telling us how he and his brother Leonard Scow started caving in the Workshop in their village. The boys were young and enthusiastic.Skilled carvers including Wayne Alfred, Beau Dick, and others worked in this shop and gave the boys pointers. Rupert and Leonard became so fascinated by carving that they would spend up to 20 hours at a time carving. their mother would bring them food. She also carved.

Rupert said, "We learned fast. We worked hard. Carving,it must be in our blood." Rupert has great carving ancestors. Mungo Martin is on his mother's side of the family.

We enjoyed Rupert's stories and the music and most of all the carving. We worked hard and got a lot of the totem done but were still working on the eye details and had not begun to sand and paint when suddenly the five days were up and the class was finished. Where had the time gone?

If anyone wants to attend a course in the future, or if you wish to contact contact Rupert Scow you can email Andrew and Joanne Dunkerton in Roberts Creek:

joandrew@dccnet.com


You can also look at other carvings by Rupert by browsing the galleries that come up when you Google "Rupert Scow."

Moon Mask
Moon Mask | Source
Rupert with moon mask
Rupert with moon mask | Source
Rupert's Moon Mask close up
Rupert's Moon Mask close up | Source

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    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Many Thanks for your comment kmaskreations. I have tried carving Cypress Knees-its an interesting wood.Lovely designs in the grain,great for carving gnomes and little elf-like creatures.You need a really sharp carving tools and understanding of grain with that type of wood. In that respect cypress knees are like red cedar.

    • kmaskreations profile image

      kmaskreations 4 years ago

      Very informative and educational hub! So much info! I sell cypress knees at my Ebay store, Storage Finds by Tomka. I believe most carvers use them for santas and gnomes. Keep up the good work! Voted up, useful, interesting, beautiful and awesome!

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. I am back home now and when I get over my jet lag I will write some more hubs.

      I saw some great wood carvings in Spain and found a weathered sheep's skelleton. I picked up the knuckle bone from the ground while hiking over the Pyrenees from France into Spain, and carved two faces into it: laughing on one side and frowning on the other.

    • jagged81 profile image

      Levi 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Well, when you get back from hiking we will be expecting a Hub. ;) lol

    • profile image

      SY 5 years ago

      Very artistic Totem poles and wood carving is a nice hobby that can also earn you a good income. Thanks for sharing. http://www.micocrane.com

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Many many thanks everyone-Sorry I cant thank each of you personally. I am delighted that you liked this hub. I loved carving my totem pole and will put a photo of it up and finished when I get back from my hiking trip and get it done.

      Rupert Scow is teaching a Moon Mask course which I will miss-and then Rupert and Andrew plan to carve a BIG Totem pole. This will be exciting to watch and photograph and maybe I can help. Once I worked on a large log with a lot of people-it's labour intensive but feels very good.

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 5 years ago from Winnipeg

      Really well illustrated, When I was in Victoria a few years ago, I couldn't take my eyes off the amazing Totem , Now we can actually learn how to carve these beautiful totem poles ourselves, fantastic! Thanks for sharing your expertise on this. Voted Up and Awesome!

    • ajayshah2005 profile image

      ajayshah2005 5 years ago from Mid Asia

      great photos!!! The hub was really interesting!! Loved to read it!!! Voted Up!!!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Congratulations on being selected for the Hub of the Day!

      Super Awesome Hub with Super Awesome Photos! This is so cool, I want to try it! I bet there is some very interesting History as well that tells a story in each of the carvings. I will vote up and share!

      JSMatthew~

    • profile image

      mib56789 5 years ago

      I agree with the HUBPages Team. This HUB is OUTSTANDING!!

    • profile image

      marellen 5 years ago

      What an interesting hub and how much fun you had. Thank you for sharing this with us...I love learning something new and this hub was so informative.

      Congrats on being hub of the day.

    • profile image

      feelhungry 5 years ago

      I used to learn craving when I was in high school. I really love all your professional craving work. ;-)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

      I know your profile page says you will be away much of the time until October and won't see these congratulations until after this day is long passed. Too bad this wasn't chosen when you could see these the same day.

    • applecsmith profile image

      Carrie Smith 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Congratulations on being the Hub of the Day! The pictures and detail here are amazing, thank you for sharing. Voted up.

    • Jennie Demario profile image

      Venture Boyz 5 years ago from Floating in the clouds

      These carvings are so awesome. You are very talented. Have you ever considered selling these on ebay or amazon? You would probably make some serious cake.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

      I love Haida and Salish artwork! I've been working on a thunderbird flash tattoo designs incorporating these design elements. Thank you for sharing.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Marsha-I am THRILLED that this hub I commented on two months ago has finally made the daily hub for all to enjoy. Congratulations!

    • manmade76 profile image

      manmade76 5 years ago from Kolkata

      Really a great Hub,never heard about that before

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

      how incredible! i love this intense art form... and your description is wonderful.

      great, great hub.

    • sj_workman79 profile image

      sj_workman79 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Congratulations on being chosen. Very well deserved. The carvings and art are amazing as well as the writing. What talent!

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Many Thanks to Peter,Brian,Carrie,Submission,Powerpoe,Kitty,Cardisse,Dungeonraider,Lavender, and Jagged and everyone for your kind comments.I am Sorry but since I am away hiking I can't answer everyone personally.

      Cardissa thanks for your question about the adze. An adze is a wood carving tool similar to an axe with a wooden handle and an ageled curved blade. The blade is sort of a cross between a thin axe blade and a large gouge. The adze is used to remove wood in a similar way as a large gouge and mallet.However it is much faster when used skillfully. First Nations and other carvers use the adze when making totem poles and sculptures. I will add a photo of an adze to this hub when I get a chance.

    • jagged81 profile image

      Levi 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Great hub, very fascinating!!!

    • profile image

      lavender3957 5 years ago

      Fantastic hub. It's a joy to be able to see how these carvings are created. wish I had that talent. Wonderful, looking forward to more.

    • dungeonraider profile image

      Jason Marovich 5 years ago from United States

      Congratulations! Beautiful hub.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

      This is really a detailed hub on the particular subject, I will not try to call the name. You draw in the reader as if we were there. I have one problem, I don't know what and adze is. While reading I thought I would get a better understanding of what is is but didn't.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      Marsha - Congrats on hub of the day! Rock on! And I absolutely love this hub. The pictures are fabulous and obviously it's well-written (but that's a given). Very informative...I've always wanted to make my own totem pole and this has inspired me to do it! Thank you!

    • Powerpoe1 profile image

      Powerpoe1 5 years ago

      This hub is very informative & the photos are fabulous! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Voted Up & Rated Interesting~

    • SubmissionWork profile image

      SubmissionWork 5 years ago from India

      Boy this is certainly a great art.

      I hope this art will survive in coming years as well.

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      congratulations for being choosen the hub of the day!! A very well deserving win. loved all the carved designs.the colours the designs the art and the artisans all are simply awesome!! gets my vote :))

      carrie

    • profile image

      Brian 5 years ago

      OUtstanding Hub and much appreciated. This is a goal I have had for a long time. I have bought a book on the topic but afraid to start. I don't think I am now. Thank you.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 5 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Beautiful, a wonderful experience. Thanks for the tour,

      Peter

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Please Look in the hub for contact info. I have added more info re courses and contact people.

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Hi Rob I will email you.

    • profile image

      rob 5 years ago

      what is your email address? There is no contact info here! Thanks. Rob. slowphone@hotmail.com

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Many Thanks for your comments Simone Smith.I'm glad you like it.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh my gosh, this is incredible! Your photos are great and I've learned so much from this Hub! Honestly, I knew next to nothing about west coast native carving before this. Voted up, beautiful, and awesome!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I'd love to--however, NC is a very long way off. :) Maybe next time I am living on the WEST coast, ok?

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 5 years ago from Indonesia

      Very beautiful carves and it must be great to have an opportunity to attend a carving class like this.

    • marshacanada profile image
      Author

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for your kind comments Denise. It was an exciting week for us. I hope to attend again. My carving skill has improved dramatically since I found excellent first nations carving teachers. If you or any other hubbers want to carve or learn to carve with us let me know.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      What a fabulous hub and quite an experience to meet this talented craftsman and learn from him. I would LOVE to do something like that. Lucky you and bravo for not letting your concerns stop you from attending the class. I applaud you! I hope this one makes the daily hub-it would be well deserved!

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